In Pakistan, at least the United States has been playing a posivite role. The meetings between Co-Chairman of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari and various high-ups are being held for the formation of the government. Asif Ali Zardari called on high American officials at US embassy where the representatives from the presidential house were also present. They discussed the matters relating to the formation of the next government in the wake of the results of general elections held on February 18.
Discussing the situation in Pakistan after election Dawn newspaper wrote in its editorial Trepidation is slowly giving way to hope. The people have spoken. Defying threats of death and destruction, they went to the polling stations from the shores of the Arabian Sea to the snowy peaks of Central Asia to give one message to the world loud and clear: Pakistanis reject extremism of all kind and stand for democracy. Unequivocally. Dictatorship belongs to the past. It is never going to return. The results of Monday's electoral exercise must serve to instil confidence in the people of Pakistan, for they have proved one point manifestly clear: they are quite capable of deciding who runs their country and how.
The general election was also a referendum on President Pervez Musharraf's policies: they stand rejected. The nation expects him to be a good loser. Let us, however, give him credit for an election that has been by and large fair on the day, for his sworn enemies have made a spectacular comeback through the ballot. And it is a huge relief that all the major political parties have accepted the result. There is no acrimony and no threat of breach of peace due to a disputed electoral exercise.
While the PPP and PML-N between them have captured a majority of the National Assembly's 272 general seats, it is the rout of the PML-Q - 'the king's party' - that has been stunning. The world knew that the president's popularity graph had been declining steeply, but even his worst denigrators would not have believed that the PML-Q would receive the kind of drubbing it did. More-loyal-than-the-king titans of the King's party tumbled like nine pins. While Chaudhry Parvaiz Elahi managed to get only one of the three seats he was contesting, party chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain suffered the ignominy of losing both his home ground to the PPP's Ahmad Mukhtar, and a Sialkot seat he was fighting for. Also to be skittled out were such die-hard PML-Q men as the over-articulate Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, the far-from-neutral NA Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain and PPP turncoats Rao Sikandar Iqbal and Dr Sher Afgan. One can go on and on with the list for nearly two dozen members of the former PML-Q cabinet were rejected by the voters.
A fuller analysis of the voting pattern must take some time, but an interim comment on the basis of the results available can be made safely. Even in death Benazir Bhutto has lived up to her supporters' slogan of charon soobon ki zanjeer (link between the four provinces). The PPP has won seats in all the provinces and proved that it is a truly national party. The PML-N's landslide is confined to Punjab, and it has some seats in the NWFP. But it is clear that Nawaz Sharif's stance on the restoration of the judiciary and the role of the military in politics found resonance among the electorate. In urban Sindh, the MQM has maintained its hold over its traditional seats, and in the NWFP the ANP has made a remarkable recovery after suffering so badly at the hands of the MMA in the 2002 election. The NWFP result demonstrated what the voters say to religious parties and extremism when their will is not subverted through a rigged election. Balochistan is a mixed bag, with a low turnout because of a boycott by nationalist parties. Experts are warning against reading too much into what appears like a PML-Q win. Most of those victorious on PML-Q tickets have been winning regardless of the platform they have run from as they are tribal leaders.
The sorriest of the boycott lot must be Qazi Hussain Ahmad. He has conceded a walkover to the secular ANP, Maulana Fazlur Rahman's victory in one of the two constituencies being the only consolation for an MMA that is now in tatters. The PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and ANP chief Asfandyar Wali have already stated their positions in order to set the parameters for any coalition-building discussion with, say, the PPP which itself has started a meeting of its Central Executive Committee to assess its option.
Experts will be working out the various permutations on calculators but one thing ought not to be pushed out of sight in the activity leading up to government formation. The voters have punished all those seen as being supportive of autocratic rule. But they haven't gone ahead and given a huge majority to one single party. One can safely assume that Pakistanis want more self-governance, more provincial autonomy and a relatively weak centre that allows them to lead their lives the way they wish to. As the new parliament comes into existence and starts to discuss and debate the challenges confronting the country, let it not forget that more autonomy to the federating units will be a good antidote to many of the ills afflicting the country today. It will bring the Federation closer together.